US regulators act against cryptocurrency firms

Bitcoin mining company Bifarms in Quebec, Canada. Securities regulators have intensified their scrutiny of cryptocurrencies, noting that some tokens may be considered securities, which would make their issuance, sale and trading subject to federal la
Bitcoin mining company Bifarms in Quebec, Canada. Securities regulators have intensified their scrutiny of cryptocurrencies, noting that some tokens may be considered securities, which would make their issuance, sale and trading subject to federal laws.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Two Wall Street regulators on Tuesday announced a series of actions, including levying fines, against companies involved with cryptocurrencies, in a flurry of activity reflecting efforts to monitor the popular and unregulated asset class.

Cryptocurrencies, like the well-known bitcoin, are virtual tokens that can be used as forms of payments on a variety of online applications. They can also be traded on dedicated online exchanges.

Securities regulators have intensified their scrutiny of the nascent asset class, noting that some tokens may be considered securities, which would make their issuance, sale and trading subject to federal laws.

US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairman Jay Clayton said in February that he believed most of the sales of new tokens, known as initial coin offerings, should be considered securities. However, the SEC has not specifically classified which coins are securities.

A New York federal judge ruled on Tuesday that a case could proceed in which US securities law was being used to prosecute fraud cases involving cryptocurrency offerings.

In the first of three separate actions announced on Tuesday, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra) accused Timothy Ayre, owner of Rocky Mountain Ayre, of committing securities fraud after he sold and marketed the digital asset HempCoin.

HempCoin was backed by shares of Rocky Mountain Ayre, but Ayre did not register the coin as a security, Finra said. Between 2016 and last year, investors mined more than 81 million HempCoin, which they traded on cryptocurrency exchanges C-Cex and Yobit.

Ayre could face a fine or suspension from the securities industry. Mr Franklin Ogele, a lawyer representing Ayre, said they are planning to fight the charges because it is not clear that HempCoin can be considered a security.

The SEC separately on Tuesday said TokenLot and its heads Lenny Kugel and Eli Lewitt agreed to pay US$471,000 (S$648,200) in disgorgement plus interest to settle charges that they acted as an unregistered broker-dealer for the sale of digital tokens. Kugel, Lewitt and TokenLot did not admit or deny the SEC's findings.

Finally, the SEC said hedge fund Crypto Asset Management LP had agreed to pay a US$200,000 penalty after it was found to have offered a fund it falsely said was regulated by the SEC when it was not.

The fund and its manager Tim Enneking, who was also named in the order, neither admitted nor denied the SEC's findings.

Mr Enneking in a telephone interview said the firm cooperated with the SEC, and removed two statements from its website as soon as the regulator notified it about the problem. "There is nothing in the order about financial impropriety, no investors were harmed, and this has not impacted the fund's operation or performance at all," he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2018, with the headline 'US regulators act against cryptocurrency firms'. Print Edition | Subscribe